Two campers from Alabama, Jimmy Suggs and Zackary Ryan Kuykendall, have been charged with igniting a major still-burning wildfire in Colorado, which has destroyed 600 acres so far and caused thousands of people to flee their homes, reported CBS News.
The men are accused of igniting what is being called the “Cold Springs Fire” near Nederland, Colorado. They started the fire on private property and had established a campfire overnight Thursday into Friday morning, said Channel 7 Denver. The men were arrested at the evacuation site, said the Denver television station.
CBS News said the men were charged with fourth-degree arson. In a statement, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, said, “The men face a felony arson charge because lives were endangered as a result of the fire.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Campers Gave a Television Interview & Talked About Camping in the Area
The Daily Camera spoke to the men on camera, although they wouldn’t give their names. The men “said they were camping in the area when the fire started, but did not acknowledge any role in igniting it,” The Daily Camera report said.
The news site said Suggs told the reporter about the fire: “The scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” He also said, according to the video: “We were camping out and stuff and the cops came and told us to get out because there was a fire. Told us to come out here.”
Their companion, Elizabeth Burdeshaw, held two kittens and periodically smiled during the video interview. “Oh yeah, we seen around where it started,” she said. “We were pretty close.”
It looked “like the whole mountain range was on fire,” added Suggs, The Daily Camera said. “It was crazy. We’d never seen anything like it.”
2. The Fire Started in an ‘Ad Hoc Campsite,’ Authorities Say
Fire investigators and sheriff’s officials told CBS News that they think the fire’s origin was the campsite the men created near Peak-to-Peak Highway and Cold Springs Road. The campsite was illegal, The Daily Camera quoted officials as saying.
The men are accused of not properly extinguishing their campfire, said The Daily Camera.
The fire continued to smolder because of winds and the hot and dry weather, said 9News.
“The men did not ensure that the fire was properly extinguished by dousing it with water, or making sure the ashes were cool to the touch before leaving the site,” Channel 7 Denver quoted an official with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office as saying.
The men were camping with Burdeshaw, 20, also from Alabama, but she is not facing charges because sheriff’s officials say she “did not have any involvement in creating, maintaining, or extinguishing the campfire,” said The Daily Camera. The fire was reported July 9 after it spread past their campsite, 9News said.
3. One of the Campers is a Registered Sex Offender & They Went to the Same High School
According to Alabama records, Zackary Ryan Kuykendall, 26, is a registered sex offender for a rape offense. He is described as 6 foot 2 inches tall and 220 pounds. He was convicted in 2014 and has multiple tattoos, including a Celtic cross, “forgiven tattoos,” and tribal tattoos. His last known address was Cullman, Alabama (authorities said the men were from Vinemont, Alabama). The handout on the state’s sex offender website says the victim was a 15-year-old girl. His occupation was listed as unemployed.
Kuykendall said on Facebook that he works as a Live Hanger at Golden-Rod Broiler Inc.
Burdeshaw commented on one photo of them together this April, saying, ” It feels like that was ages ago but we are still just as cute together now as we was then❤ you truly are my soul mate?I couldn’t ask for a better partner in crime? I love you ???”
Suggs, 28, says on Facebook that he is a cook at Denny’s restaurant and also lives in Cullman. Both Suggs and Kuykendall went to the same high school, according to their Facebook pages. Suggs regularly quotes Bible verses.
“Yes, I’m one of those crazy people who would like to live in the backwoods,” said one meme he posted. He wrote on May 30: “Amen praise God and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ he’s got a lot of work left to do in me but when he is done I’ll be the man I’m supposed to be.” Suggs was previously arrested for “Unlawful possession/receiving of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia,” according to The Cullman Times.
4. The Fire Destroyed Six Buildings & Endangered Dozens More
According to CBS, the wildfire destroyed three homes and three other buildings – and it’s still burning. About 30 other homes were located in the fire’s path and were in danger of burning, CBS said.
Tips led to the men’s arrest, reported The Daily Camera. Sheriff Joe Pelle told reporters the men were “hanging out with nowhere to go” at the Nederland Middle/Senior High School evacuation center on Saturday, The Daily Camera said.
About 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes and high winds meant that more homes could burn. Firefighters were trying to contain the fire. The fire was growing in size the Sunday after it started, Channel 7 said, and evacuation orders were sent to 700 more people.
5. The Men Tried to Put Out the Fire With Rocks & Dirt & Are in Jail
Officials believe the men tried to put out the fire by piling dirt and rocks on top of it, according to The Daily Camera. The men were booked into the Boulder County Jail, The Denver Post said.
The still smoldering fire isn’t just a danger to people; it’s a danger to animals. The Daily Camera says family pets have been evacuated to the Humane Society and livestock is being sent to the County fairgrounds.
The Denver Post said more than 200 firefighters and a dozen aircraft were fighting the fire and trying to establish a perimeter.